Puerto Rican boxer Félix Verdejo Sánchez pleaded not guilty to federal charges linking him to the killing of Keishla Rodríguez Ortiz, whose family said she was pregnant with his child at the time of her death.
In a virtual court hearing Tuesday morning, Verdejo Sánchez pleaded not guilty to one count of carjacking resulting in death, one count of kidnapping resulting in death, one count of killing an unborn child and a count of using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.
Luis Antonio Cádiz Martínez, a second person indicted in Rodríguez Ortiz's killing, also pleaded not guilty later in the afternoon. He was charged with one count of carjacking resulting in death, one count of kidnapping resulting in death and one count of killing an unborn child.
Even though the death penalty is illegal in Puerto Rico, both men could face federal death penalty charges because the indictment included special findings, including "Verdejo Sánchez procured the commission of the offense by payment, or promise of payment" and "Cádiz-Martínez committed the offense as consideration for the receipt, or in the expectation of the receipt, of anything of pecuniary value," among other factors, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico said.
Verdejo Sánchez will be held without bail until his trial, the judge ruled.
The disgraced boxer turned himself in to authorities last week after Rodríguez Ortiz's body was found floating on the San José Lagoon near the Teodoro Moscoso bridge in San Juan two days after her family reported her missing on April 29.
Cádiz Martínez, a former federal convict, has been identified as a witness who cooperated with the FBI, which has been investigating the case alongside the Puerto Rico Public Safety Department, the Puerto Rico Police Bureau and the Puerto Rico Justice Department, NBC News' sister station Telemundo Puerto Rico reported. He is also being held without bail until his trial.
Rodríguez Ortiz's killing has struck a chord on an island reeling from a series of femicides that have claimed the lives of at least 21 women in the U.S. territory since January, according to the civil rights coalition Observatorio de Equidad de Género. At least 60 women were killed last year, a 62 percent increase in femicides compared to the previous year.
According to a criminal complaint, Rodríguez Ortiz was killed after she told "Verdejo that she was pregnant with his child based on a pregnancy test."
The complaint alludes to a witness who participated in the events, but does not identify Cádiz Martinez by name.
According to the criminal complaint, the witness told the FBI that Verdejo Sánchez contacted him to help terminate Rodríguez Ortiz's pregnancy. Verdejo Sánchez and Rodríguez Ortiz met up near her home and drove separately to meet the witness. When they got to the meeting place, Rodríguez Ortiz got into Verdejo Sánchez's car.
Following a conversation between the pair, Verdejo Sánchez punched Rodríguez Ortiz and then injected her with "a syringe filled with substances purchased from a drug point in Llorens Torres," a large housing project in San Juan, the complaint alleges.
Verdejo Sánchez and the witness tied Rodríguez Ortiz's arms and feet with wire and bound her to a cinder block, authorities alleged. They then drove to the bridge, where they threw Rodríguez Ortiz into the water, according to the complaint. Verdejo Sánchez then shot at Rodríguez Ortiz with a pistol from the bridge above.
Rodríguez Ortiz was buried Saturday morning during an emotional ceremony that brought crowds of Puerto Ricans to the streets to say one last goodbye.
The entourage went to the Villa Esperanza housing project, where Rodríguez Ortiz resided and where Puerto Ricans have created a memorial to commemorate her life. There, the family released four white doves.
"Not one more. It ended on April 29," José Antonio Rodríguez, her father, said with a message to men amid an alarming rise in femicides. "Let them think that they came from a lady. And those who have daughters, talk a lot with them," he said.